What I bought - 21 November 2007

I wonder if your head exploded from all the comics awesomeness this week.  I feared that mine would, but I held it together with a great deal of effort, just to bring you these reviews!  Let's check out the excellence!

First, let's check out the books you suggested and why I might not have picked them up.  I will probably read Groo eventually, but I wasn't too impressed with the first issue (yes, I know I suck), so I'm not dying to read the next one.  But it's certainly an amusing little comic.  I am going to read Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century, but I didn't read it for this post.  As for Captain America, not only do I read it in trades, I read it OMNIBUS format!  25 issues for 75 bucks (minus a nice comic-book store discount).  That's quality!  For some reason, I'm just not that into Hellblazer these days.  I ought to check out a Diggle issue, but I can wait.  I have read two issues of The Brave and the Bold, and it's just not doing it for me.  I read Conan in trades, so I'll wait for the latest issue.  I'm going to read The Simpsons, but I haven't picked it up yet (probably this weekend).  I did read Powers, but I was going to write about it for my other column and then changed my mind and didn't feel like reviewing it here.  I read Invincible in trades, and have to get around to picking up The Walking Dead trades, because the few issues I've read have been good.  So there you have it.  Now, onward!

Angel: After the Fall #1 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, and Franco Urru.  $3.99, IDW.

This is one of those comics I picked up for free, partly because a few people recommended it.  I don't really have any interest in it, but I figured it might be a good read.  I had no expectations for it whatsoever, so it could go either way, right?

Well, this is kind of a mediocre comic.  It's not terrible, but it's not that great either.  It's a first issue, so Lynch (who scripted it) gives us a foundation for the book, although I get the feeling that it would definitely help to have watched the television show, especially because the big bad guys, Wolfram & Hart, are kind of ill-defined and more of a presence than an active evil.  It seems like I've been dropped into the middle of a storyline, which is kind of weird for a #1 issue.  But that's a minor complaint - it's more of a vague feeling of unease than anything else.

David Boreanaz narrates the book, so we know what's going on, and he tells us about how this evil corporation turned Los Angeles into a portal of hell, so now demons have split the city up into zones where they rule supreme.  Angel goes around rescuing normal humans and sending them to someplace safe where other people have holed up.  This draws the attention of some demons, who beat him up for a while until a representative of Wolfram & Hart named Wyndham-Price stops them.  Meanwhile, a bunch of humans kills a demon lord.  And Angel gets some revenge on the demons who pushed him around.  So there's that.

It's not a bad comic, I guess.  It's put together decently enough, and Urru's art, especially the demon stuff, looks pretty good.  There's just nothing here that makes me want to get the next issue.  If you're a fan of the television show, it might work better, but for the most part, it's just a bunch of humans fighting demons.  Lynch doesn't really make it any more than that, unfortunately. 

Catwoman #73 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

This is a strange issue.  After last issue's gut-wrenching twist of fate, Pfeifer gives us an issue that feels somewhat inconsequential, except for the villain reveal at the end (I'd give it away, because I'm evil, but I don't know who it is, and neither, apparently, does Selina).  It's not a bad issue, in that it's entertaining, but it's kind of weird.  Selina's apartment burns down at the beginning, and she needs to restock her supplies.  Her emergency cache, which is stored in a locker at the train station, has been pilfered as well, so she goes to Calculator to find out who's messing with her.  He claims not to know, but he directs her to the house of some weird dude who collects super-villain artifacts.  She she steals a Catwoman mask, and Calculator gives her a clue about the bad guy, but it's a set-up!  Oh, Selina.  So she gets captured, and things don't end well.  But that's why next issue exists!

As part of a story arc, this isn't that bad, because Selina finds out a few things about the bad guy and ends up in a pickle.  But, basically, this issue is about Selina getting a mask.  It's a bit weird that Pfeifer spends so much time on her trying to get a costume back.  There are things in here that will probably pay off down the line, especially the fact that Calculator is jerking her around, but as a single issue, it doesn't really work all that well.  It's a rare misstep in this run of very good issues, but it's certainly not anything that will make me angry.  Pfeifer has done enough on this book that I'm sure he'll make this an excellent arc, even if this particular issue isn't great.

Checkmate #20 by Greg Rucka, Joe Bennett, and Jack Jadson.  $2.99, DC.

I'm not entirely sure why Bane is on that cover.  Or that dude behind him - is that Slipknot?  Or Bronze Tiger.  Chemo, I guess, gets a mention in the book, but what's up with the other guys?

Anyway, "The Fall of the Wall" concludes very nicely (despite the lack of koalas), although I can understand why some people don't like it.  I mean, there's hardly any bashing in this issue!  Rucka has set up the confrontation between Waller and the rest of Checkmate so that it's entirely political, and that's where it ends - it the back rooms of the United Nations.  That doesn't mean it's not tense - Waller thinks she has the upper hand when she reveals that Checkmate's "Rule of Two" - no more than two members of any level can be metahumans - has been violated, but that doesn't mean that Mr. Terrific, Sasha, and Taleb Beni Khalid don't have a card or two up their sleeve.  So while Jessica Midnight is escaping from Deadshot in an unorthodox and potentially damaging (to Checkmate) way, the Royals are playing their games.  It's a wonderfully constructed story, leaving Checkmate with an opening at their highest level, setting the stage for further problems, and also tying into that Suicide Squad book I hear good things about.  Oh, it's a good day to be a fan of espionage comic books!  You know you love them!

Ex Machina #32 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Jim Clark.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Okay, it's the middle of a story arc on Ex Machina, so there's not much to say about the plot, but I'm puzzled by a few things.  Why is the prostitute in the book?  There's one nugget of information we get in that scene, but it just seems like an excuse to get boobies into the book.  It's a weird scene.  Second, and more importantly, I really hope there's more to the Mitch-as-Antichrist idea.  It's kind of stupidly explained in this issue, but it could come through next issue, especially with what we know about the bad guys using Mitch as an assassin and the end of this issue, which does not bode well for the Pope.  So that priest thinks Mitchell Hundred is the Antichrist?  Really?  There's no better candidate?  He's the Antichrist because he's pro-choice and thinks stem-cell research is a good thing?  Wouldn't that make about half of this country the Antichrist?  It's kind of an odd discussion, because it seems so arbitrary.  I hope it goes somewhere, but for now, it's kind of strange.  Such are the vagaries of the monthly comic, I guess.  Keeping with the storyline, I have faith for now that Vaughan will tie it all together.  We'll see.

G. I. Joe #29 by Mark Powers and Mike Bear.  $3.50, Devil's Due Publishing.

You know, you really should be buying this comic.  Tons o' action, very nice art, and lots of important consequences.  What do I mean, you say?  Well, last issue, two ICBMs destroyed Boston.  Holy crap!  I believe that Mark Powers is probably from New York, Washington, or Philadelphia or another northeastern city and is sick of the Red Sox, the Celtics renaissance, and especially the adventures of Bill Belichick and his cheating, running-up-the-score, snotty team, so destroying Boston in the pages of G. I. Joe is him vicariously living out his fantasies.  Come on - who outside of the greater Boston area doesn't want to see some team beat the Patriots by 100 points?  It's the dream!

Where was I?  Oh yeah, Boston.  So the missiles were fired from a Russian submarine, which is Cobra's evil plan to get the U. S. and Russia into a war.  How diabolical!  Unlike, say, a certain occupant of the White House who shall remain nameless, the president in the G. I. Joe world actually listens to reason and doesn't simply bomb Moscow back into the Stone Age.  He gives our heroes 24 hours to prove that Cobra is behind the attack.  Of course, Cobra doesn't give them 24 hours, as they launch an attack on the White House itself.  I guess that proves their involvement!  Things look bad for the president, don't they?  Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister is targeted for assassination.  Can the Joes stop the killer in time????

The nice thing about this comic is that Powers has set things up so well in earlier issues that we're really not positive if the good guys will stop the assassin.  We're pretty sure they will, especially when Snake-Eyes shows up (whoo-hoo!), but we can't be sure.  Similarly, Cobra does some horrible things in this issue, and although we're pretty confident that the good guys will save the day, we're on the edge of our seats because we aren't sure.  Cobra agents are everywhere, man!

Give this book a try.  It's easy to follow, nice to look at, and rips along at a high-octane pace.  It's very cool.  Don't you want to be cool?  (Okay, you're reading comics, so that ship has sailed, but within the culture, you should strive for it, right?)

Gødland #20 by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli.  $2.99, Image.

After a bit of a sluggish issue #19, Casey and Scioli get back on track with #20, and despite the book's recent erratic scheduling, it's still a fantastically entertaining book.  It seems to be getting a bit bloodthirstier (yes, I know early in the book someone's head exploded), but what's a little splatter among friends?  Adam and Maxim head to Las Vegas, where our three weird alien dudes, Ed, Eeg-oh, and Supra, have been slaughtering the population while their missile that's going to destroy the world continues to dig toward the planet's core.  While Adam fights the three wackos, Maxim goes to stop it.  And, of course, there are weapon-wielding prostitutes.  With unusual heads, to say the least.

Meanwhile, the Tormentor and Basil Discordia find out where Friedrich Nickelhead is, and it's as weird as the rest of the book.  The nice thing about the comic is that Casey is doing a nice job throwing out all the strange ideas, but because of the sarcastic tone he takes, we're in on the joke, so we can deal with it.  And although we don't really fear for Adam or Maxim, Casey has created some very cool evil things to menace our heroes, like the creature at the end ... the Zarathustra Beast!  Man, that doesn't look good for Adam!

It's a shame that the book has fallen off the schedule a bit, but it's still one of the best books out there.  I'm glad it's back on track.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #1 (of eight) by Matt Wagner.  $3.50, Dark Horse.

The first four pages of this book are white walls splattered with blood.  Lots of blood.  Man, it's gorgeous.  Wagner can make blood splatters beautiful.  Hunter Rose, the original Grendel, narrates with his usual arrogance and aplomb, as he tells us about the men he's just killed and how little chance they stood against him.  It's chilling and riveting.  Then we see the room in which the killings took place, and Grendel stands in the middle of a bunch of corpses, untouched by the blood.  It's an astonising image, and sets the stage for an excellent re-introduction to Wagner's seminal creation.  It's wonderful to look at, and the story is nicely set up.  A reporter is searching for Grendel, a cop is heading up a task force devoted to catching him, and they're sleeping together (the reporter's a man, the cop's a woman).  Grendel, meanwhile, feels like someone is watching him.  Hmmm ...

Man, this is a cool-looking comic.  You don't have to know anything about Grendel, because we get a brief recap at the beginning, and a couple of "excerpts" from Christine Spar's novel about Hunter Rose, which fills in everything we might need to know.  It looks like this will be a great mini-series.  If you have enjoyed Wagner's work on the recent Batman books but have never seen him doing Grendel, pick this up.  It's in black-and-white-and-red, a motif in the recent Grendel mini-series, and it looks great.  Give it a chance!

Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #1 by B. Clay Moore and Scott Chantler.  $2.99, Image.

Hawaiian Dick returns with a new artist, and even though it's not exactly a welcome change, if it means the book comes out on a somewhat regular basis, I'll take it.  It's not that Chantler is a bad artist, but he's a bit more cartoony than co-creator Steven Griffin, and it works against both the book's noir tone and Griffin's colors, which are what I would call "tropical sleazy."  Look at the cover and you'll get an idea what I mean - everything is a bit surreal and grotesque, but still weirdly tropical.  It's a nice effect, but it clashes a bit with Chantler's more conventional figures.  Griffin contributes a back-up story that he wrote and drew, and we can compare and contrast even more, and unfortunately, Chantler's art comes off worse for it.  It's fine, but nothing special.

Moore's story is pretty much all set-up, which is fine too.  A independent flying squadron from World War II comes to Hawaii on their air show circuit, and Byrd is there because he was a big fan of the pilots during the war.  During their show, one of the planes is shot down by what looks like a Japanese Zero.  Byrd helps out when the rest of the squadron rescues the pilot, and manages to befriend the leader, a man called Dennis Tigher.  At a bar later, Tigher tells him they spend a lot of their time tracking down loose ends from the war, the biggest one of which is Hitler.  Yeah, I thought he was dead, too.

That plot point is skipped over for the rest of the book, even though I can't imagine we won't return to it, and the next day Byrd gets to go flying with Tigher.  Of course, the Zero shows up again and is about to menace our hero, which is where the issue ends.  What will happen to Byrd and his new buddy?

The back-up story features Kahami, Byrd's girl Friday, as she substitutes as a waitress at a sleazy bar and gets into trouble, naturally.  It's a neat little story.

As we've seen with the two mini-series preceding this, Moore can put together a good little tale.  The setting is a nice draw, because it's still odd to get the clashing mileaux of pulp detective fiction and sunny island culture, but that's toned down a bit in this issue, because Byrd doesn't get into the Hawaiian underground too much.  Still, it's a good, entertaining detective story with a nice old-school feel to it.  And, as usual, I really hope it comes out promptly.  That would be nice.

The Incredible Hulk #111 by Greg Pak, Jeff Parker, and Leonard Kirk.  $2.99, Marvel.

I hate to say it, but this issue, which claims to take place between World War Hulk #4 and 5 but seems to take place at the same time as #5, is a bit more satisfying than the final issue of the mini-series.  Look, I agree with people who respond to the criticism of issue #5 of World War Hulk as being little more than two people punching each other by saying, "It's called World War Hulk - what did you think it was going to be?"  However, I can see the point of those who criticize it.  I still enjoyed it for precisely what it was, but that's why this issue is a bit more satisfying - it's less about people punching each other (although there is plenty of that) and more about people figuring out solutions.  Superhero books are so much more interesting when the heroes try to figure things out without bashing each other, so this book turns out to be more satisfying than the main title.

What makes it fascinating is that Amadeus Cho, Angel, Hercules, and Namora are up against a bad guy they can't defeat - the demon Zom, which has left Dr. Strange and possessed Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor.  So they need to outthink it, and it's a good thing that Amadeus is there!  They all work very well together (and in the case of Hercules and Namora, very very well together) and the plan works to perfection.  Of course, this doesn't change the fact that the Hulk gets bashed, but at least they prevented the demon from destroying New York.  That's certainly something!

Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that Hulk doesn't actually appear very often in this book (we see snippets of his fight with Sentry), it turns out to be a nice companion book to the big mini-series.  That's not a bad trick.  Now we'll see where Pak is going with the "Incredible Herc" storyline that starts next issue.  It might be very interesting.

Iron Man Annual #1 by Christos N. Gage and Harvey Tolibao.  $3.99, Marvel.

Are these Marvel annuals going to become, I don't know, an annual event?  The ones I've read have been pretty good, and it would be nice if they came fully back in vogue.  We'll see.

Take this comic.  It's four bucks, which means it's a bit longer than your regular books.  That doesn't necessarily make it better, but it is a fairly fun comic in which Tony Stark decides to take down Madame Hydra, who is currently ruling Madripoor.  He can't go in as Iron Man, so he goes in as Tony Stark on vacation and tries to locate Tyger Tiger, the only person capable of bringing about a revolution to depose Madame H.  It's a remarkably easy revolution, as things get wrapped up quickly, but what's nice about these kinds of books (like the Daredevil Annual from earlier in the year) is that is changes the status quo, but not in a shocking, "nothing will ever be the same!" kind of way.  Future writers can use what these creators are doing, but it doesn't require a huge upsetting of the apple cart.  We'll see if anyone runs with this, but for now, it's a fine story that fits in well with Tony's job as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and with the Marvel Universe in general.  It's always nice to see these solid superhero stories (and this one has a nice dash of espionage) that change things without pissing too many people off.

There are some interesting weird things going on in the issue, though.  Tolibao's art is okay, although it's a bit over-rendered - everyone looks slightly 'roided-out.  It's unfortunate, because his close-ups work and he has a good sense of design with the panels, but man! does everyone have bulging muscles!  Then there's an interesting exchange between Tony and the agent they have on the inside in Madripoor, who tells Tony about Tyger Tiger.  He says that there are only two people the locals would follow in a revolt - some guy named Patch who hasn't been around in a while (a nice tip of the hat to Wolverine) and Tyger Tiger.  Here's what he says about her: "Crime boss called Tyger Tiger.  Owns the place, but doesn't hang out here - something about bad memories.  Sorry."  Tony says, "No problem.  Where do I find her?"  Here's the question: why does Tony assume it's a woman?  Tyger Tiger is an established Marvel character, so I guess he knows her from olden days, but then why does he need Agent Huang to tell him about her?  Are we just assuming now that crime bosses in Madripoor are females?  It's just something that caught my eye.

Second, what's the deal with Madripoor?  From the very little I know about it (I didn't read Wolverine when he hung out there), I thought it was in Southeast Asia (according to one source, it's where Singapore is).  But everyone's white.  What's the deal?  It's like Genosha, which is off the coast of southern Africa but is also populated by white people.  It's very weird.

Next, we have a fun typo.  On page 2 (or page 3, if you count the recap page), we see footage of Madame Hydra attacking the helicarrier.  She slashes at one S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and we see clearly the patch on his shoulder.  This is what it looks like:

What's a "dirocorate"?  I get that it's a typo, but isn't there an editor or three (an assistant, an associate, and Tom Brevoort) to check these things?  Sheesh.

Finally, the unintentionally funny panel.  Tony and his three gorgeous lady agents get in a fight in a bar, and one of the agents gets burned right on her chest by some freaky vampire thing called Bloodscream.  He had to debut in the Nineties with a name like that, right?  Anyway, later, another agent is checking out the hand print burned on Nails' - that's her code name - chest.  This is their exchange:

Okay, first of all, she's already wearing a low-cut gown.  Second, if you're going to say that, shouldn't the artist make sure that she actually doesn't have a rack for them?  It looks like Nails is doing a fine job holding that sucker up.  That made me laugh out loud.

Okay, I've nitpicked enough.  I didn't even mention the Tony's Ass Panel.  This is a pretty cool comic, despite some weird flaws.  And any comic in which Tony isn't a dick is nice, these days.

Left on Mission #5 (of 5) by Chip Mosher and Francesco Francavilla.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

It's another espionage book!  Man, it's like a Golden Age for espionage books, and that's fine with me!

I've been enjoying this series, but I must say it doesn't end particularly well.  We had the big showdown last issue, and this issue we thougth we were going to get another showdown between Eric and Emma, but it doesn't necessarily work out that way.  The first part of the issue is fine, as Eric and Emma renew their acquaintance in bed, which is where we expected them to end up.  It's a nice scene, as we learn some things about Emma and what she is really like.  Then, however, the issue falters, as it ends, not unexpectedly, but somewhat abruptly.  It feels as if we didn't get to know Emma or Eric enough to really accept her fate and his reaction to it.  For the most part (except for issue #3, the flashback issue), this has been a fast-moving thriller with just enough characterization, but when it gets to a point where the thriller aspect takes a bit of a back seat and the character aspect steps to the fore, I don't feel like we know enough about the characters to get too involved in what happens to them.  I could be wrong - maybe I should just go back and re-read it to see if I missed anything that would get me more involved.  It's still a good comic - the story is interesting, and Francavilla's art is superb - but it does end weirdly.  I usually don't think mini-series need more issues, but one more might, giving us a bit more of the two main characters, might have been good.

Of course, when I re-read it I'll probably think, "Oh!  So that's what it all means!"  I'm a bit dim, so I'm sure I missed something. 

The Lone Ranger #10 by Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello.  $2.99, Dynamite Entertainment.

Man, that's a great cover.  Cassaday certainly knows what he's doing.

The problem with The Lone Ranger is that it's not flashy, so it might fly under your radar.  Matthews and Cariello simply deliver solid stories each issue, full of morally questionable people and choices where nobody does the "right" thing, just the thing that needs to be done.  Tonto wants to kill the punk kid they rescued because he's a murderer.  John wants to return him to his "country" (Mexico?), but the boy claims he'll be killed there, too.  John claims he'll make sure the boy gets a fair trial, but the boy knows that no matter what John does, he'll be hanged.  John can't let him go because the boy says he'll kill again.  It seems like an easy choice - turn the bastard in! - but it's not, because John realizes there are things that make a person kill, and they're not always pure evil.  He knows he's condemning the boy to death, but his other option is to let the boy go, which will result in the death, down the line, of someone else.  Matthews has done a nice job in only ten issues of making this a very interesting Western, in which the hero wears a black mask and doesn't always act perfectly heroic.  But he's still a hero, which is why we know he'll do what's right, even if it will haunt him.  Cariello continues to do strong work here, as he and the colorist (Marcelo Pinto) create a wonderfully moody atmosphere of gloom and ambiguity to match the book's tone.  Cassaday might be the "art director" of the book, but it wouldn't work as well if he were pencilling it.

This is just another very good comic that's out there right now.  Pick up an issue and give it a try!  You just might love it!

New X-Men #44 by Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Humberto Ramos, and Carlos Cuevas.  $2.99, Marvel.

Just when I think I've escaped Humberto Ramos ... he sucks me back in!  Oh, the horror!

This is a perfectly fine part of the crossover, as the New X-Men decide to take matters into their own hands with regard to the Purifiers and go smack them around a while, as was foreshadowed so subtly in last week's chapter.  Professor Xavier briefly tries to talk them out of it, but Nori freaks out at him and points out that he wasn't there when the Purifiers were killing 45(!) of their friends.  Later, she convinces a bunch of students to go with her for revenge - and, you know, saving that mutant baby, if they happen to have it.  They don't know that Rictor is already on the inside, and he finds out quickly that the Purifiers don't, in fact, have the baby.  But in they go anyway, proverbial guns blazing.

Meanwhile, Layla and the one duplicate of Jamie have discovered something awful and familiar in their future, while the X-Men have tracked the Marauders and will presumably have some sort of throw-down next issue.  Back in the kids' section of the issue, they find out the same thing Rictor did, but by then it's too late, because they're about to be introduced to the Purifiers' new ally.  Oh, it's not pleasant.  And, in a shocking development, someone (apparently) dies.  Will this character stay dead?  Only time will tell!

There are a couple of reasons why I haven't gotten into this book, even though it's not bad.  First, the body count.  I haven't read the issues in which every known mutant under the age of 18 dies, but apparently the New X-Men have been getting slaughtered with stunning regularity.  It happens again in this issue!  I'm all for wholesale massacres in my comics, but after a while, it just gets numbing and formulaic, and that's never good.  Second, who's watching out for these kids?  Do they have an adult mentor?  Xavier seems to not care at all about them, and the other X-Men are off doing their thing to worry about them.  Again, I know that realism in a mainstream Marvel comic is probably not something I'm going to find (unless it involves slaughtering lots of people, 'cause that's "real"), but who are these kids?  Do their parents know about them?  Do their parents care about the fact that they die routinely?  Are they orphans?  Back in New Mutants, we'd occasionally see Stevie Hunter or Sharon Friedlander chaperoning the kids around.  Now, they just come and go as they please and get knocked off and nobody appears to bat an eye.  Can a long-time reader of this book help explain?

This is turning out to be a decent crossover.  As usual with these things, it's all in how it pays off.  So we'll see.

The Programme #5 (of 12) by Peter Milligan and C. P. Smith.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

This continues to be a vexing book, as the story is fascinating and hums along at a nice clip for a 12-issues "maxi-series," but Milligan's frustrating way of writing oddly detached dialogue is very evident throughout.  This leaves you with a feeling of wanting to see where the story is going but not actually caring too much about the characters, which is a weird way to react to a piece of fiction.  The nice thing about this issue is that the strands are coming together a bit, so that's it's easier to follow than the previous two issues, but it's still a weird comic.  Some of my favorite writers do this occasionally - get so caught up in the plot that they forget that the characters have to do more than spout information and act all aloof - and Milligan is doing it here.  The good thing is that the plot is interesting, and a lot happens in this issue, so I'm interested in what happens next.  It's just not as good a book as it could be, and that's a shame.

Rex Libris #9 by James Turner.  $2.95, SLG.

In a week of very good comics, Rex Libris might be the best.  If you're still not reading Rex Libris, we might have to consider the idea that you don't actually know how to read.  Do you want us to consider that?  DO YOU?!?!?!?

This is probably the perfect place to jump on, too, if you've inexplicably missed the first eight issues.  As much as it can be, this is a one-and-done issue.  It's set within the larger context of what's been happening, but Rex takes some time out from the bigger issues to flashback to an earlier time, and so we get a story that does its job in one issue, but also fits in.  So, to reiterate: perfect place to jump on.

The story Rex narrates is about the Ong Zwarba Gem of the Lost City of Babbulkund, which he's reminded of because the crystals he brought back from space have changed some of the books into physical manifestations in the "real" world.  The books that have been so changed include Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, some Wells or Lovecraft stories (Hypatia can't remember exactly), meaning that everything contained in those books is now real.  Rex is a bit put out by this (we know he is, because he swears "Belgium!" thrice when he hears the book list), but that doesn't stop him from telling them about the Ong Zwarba Gem, which could have done the same thing.  So we flash back to 1933, as Rex, bringing the gem back from China, gets captured while trying to smuggle a group of dissident writers out of Russia.  The gem apparently gives its holder wacky luck, whic Rex uses to escape his captors, which leads to a big-ass shoot-out, which is far better than almost any fight scene you're ever going to see in a comic.  It's tense, it's hilarious, and it's educational (there's a footnote explaining who the Kronstadt sailors were).  At the end, Hypatia stops him and asks him what this has to do with their bigger problem, and Rex says that it's just an exciting story.  And you know what?  It is.  Memetic manifestations be damned, sometimes you just have to tell an exciting story!

As usual, this is a marvelously fun book to read.  Plus, it has so many cool quotes that I must give you some.  Remember: according to the cover, Rex is the "World's Favourite Ass-Kicking Sesquipedalian Librarian!"  How many other books force you to look up things in a dictionary?  So here are some of my favourites, so to speak:

It's never a home renovation book!  Belgium, Belgium, Belgium!!

Fixing this mess is going to be more like preparing fugu soup and cocoa squab liver pâte for a guest-list of five hundred using a rusty blowtorch.  And dat ain't easy, lemme tell ya.

Break time, ya spur-galled galoots!

You've been seduced by an old memetic parasite dressed in new clothes -- woven out of silken sophistry!  Place it above human life an' it'll consume both you and yer children!

Where are you going to get quotes like that?  The Brave and the Bold?  I think not!  Plus: the Wilhelm Scream!  An excerpt from the novel A World FUBAR: Heironymous Snogg and the Sex Vixen Factory of the Post-Apocalypse!  And I would love to read the latest issue of The Immovable Man, in which the Boggart Gang robs a bank with more than one exit, "presenting the Immovable Man with a seemingly unsolvable dilemma!"

You know you want to buy this book.  It's the comic you've been looking for all your life.

The Scream #1 (of 4) by Peter David, Bart Sears, and Randy Elliot.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

I like the idea of this book more than how it's executed, which means I might give issue #2 a try, because I do like the potential it has.  David comes up with a postal worker, David Duncan, who spent some time at a sanatorium/rest home/hospital but doesn't remember what happened to him there.  He has a father who is suffering from Alzheimer's, a lousy job, and he keeps falling asleep on the job.  And he can apparently control others' emotions or perceptions.  And when he gets caught in a bank holdup at the end, that creature on the cover shows up and begins bashing the robbers.  What is it?  Well, that's for next issue.  If you think it has something to do with his hospital stay, well, no points for you, as it's rather obvious.

It's certainly not a perfect book, partly because David is doing a lot of exposition in this issue and therefore some of the dialogue sounds forced, and partly because of Sears' art.  I have never loved Sears' art, but I have usually liked it, but he overdoes it a bit in this book, as you might be able to tell from the cover, which is similar to the rest of the comic.  It seems like he and Elliot had too much time and they kept tweaking the art until it was overdone.  Sears is more effective when he ratchets it down a little and doesn't go too crazy with the linework.

I'm sure it will be interesting, but I'm not sure if it will be any better than that.  I'll give it another issue to see.

She-Hulk #23 by Peter David, Shawn Moll, and Victor Olazaba.  $2.99, Marvel.

Speaking of Peter David, his second issue of She-Hulk shows up this week, and I think I'll SPOIL the ending.  Just so you know.

This is better than The Scream, mainly because David feels more invested in Jen than he does in the other book.  It's probably because he has more to work with here, or maybe because this is essentially a big fight issue, as Shulkie dukes it out with the Absorbing Man while Titania, who's in her ear canal, keeps punching her and making her dizzy.  Meanwhile, Jennifer, whose neck was broken last issue but is still alive, wraps up Rocky Davis, the criminal she was sent to collect, and then simply cracks her neck back to normal.  Fuck the heck?  Well, all is explained at the end, fret not.

It's a fairly good fight comic (and David even makes a joke about all the puns he could make at one point, even though he refrains), with not a lot of opportunity for deep character development, even though Creel tries to psycho-analyze She-Hulk.  However, David is one of those writers who can do interesting things with regular superhero stuff.  So we get Creel turning into Legos™ and a shark, and then Jennifer shows up holding Titania, who has fallen out of She-Hulk's ear.  This distraction allows the two heroines to get away clean.  For an introduction to She-Hulk's new career, it's not a bad two-issue story.

As for Jennifer and her broken neck ... she's a Skrull.  Now, I'm not entirely sure if it's a Skrull we've seen before, but it's still a Skrull.  I know some time has passed since Slott's work on the book, so I imagine David is going to go back and show us how a Skrull is working with She-Hulk.  Will it fit in with what Mr. Bendis is doing?  That could work, I guess.  It's just a bit weird, although I'm willing to let David explain it all.

So David has laid the foundation of his run.  It has possibilities, I'll admit.

The Umbrella Academy #3 (of 6) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

Okay, so this looks fantastic, as Bá goes nuts with the explosions and lasers and mayhem, and it keeps the plot going, even though the big fight doesn't have a whole lot to do with the main story.  Well, maybe it will, but it doesn't appear to.  It's a wildly fun book to read, and Way does a good job balancing the goofiness with some pretty disturbing things.

The one thing I didn't like about this issue is the reception that Vanya gets when she shows up at the fiery carnival.  Kraken saves her bacon, and he freaks out at her, screaming that she's going to get killed and she should just stay out of the way.  Kraken is kind of a dick, I know, but is that really the reaction he should have?  She does tell him that she has to tell him something, but he ignores her and tells her to take a hike.  If you think this is going to drive her into the arms of the bad guy and his loopy Apocalypse Suite, where she will play her violin and destroy the world!  Oh dear.  I object to this because it seems rather over-the-top dickish of Kraken, and then Vanya simply goes off to the bad guys.  It seems somewhat abrupt.

But that's just a minor complaint.  This is still a great comic.  I can't wait for the next three issues.

Zero Killer #3 (of 6) by Arvid Nelson and Matt Camp.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

Finally, we get another six-issue mini-series on its third issue, and we're starting to get some answers.  Zero is approached by representatives of the Sudanese government, which is a paradise on Earth in this universe because it was spared the nuclear holocaust.  The men offer him transit to Africa, which is where he's trying to go, in exchange for Zero finding the briefcase that was in the helicopter that got shot down earlier in the series.  It went down in the World Trade Center, which holds bad memories for Zero.  After an unusual conversation with his brother, Zero decides to go for it.  Stark, who comes with him to the meeting with the Sudanese, also wants to go to the Towers, for her own reasons, but Zero doesn't want her to go.  So the stage is set for more post-Apocalyptic action and secrets revealed and connections made.  The nice thing about this comic is that it's getting more interesting as we go along.  Nelson has done a nice job building the suspense, and so it looks like this will be a nice conclusion in the next three issues.

There's a weird thing in the book, though: too many exclamation points.  This isn't the Seventies, when periods were hard to see.  So why all the exclamation points when they don't seem relevant?  It's actually distracting, so I hope it doesn't continue.

Holy crap, that's a ton of cool comics.  I mean, really.  Comics are quite excellent.  Go get some!

Remember, you can still vote for your favorite X-Men Era.  I appreciate all the comments so far.  It's very cool of you all.

Wolverine, Punisher Step Up on Art Adams' War of the Realms #2 Cover

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